Laissez les Bons Temps Rouler - Winter 2011 travel blog




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that all the opulence we enjoyed today was built on the backs of slaves. It certainly wasn't mentioned. And to be fair all the hospitable folks we met who shared their family homes with us had nothing more to do with it than we did. We don't know for sure where the proceeds that we paid to tour the homes will go, but it seems unlikely that they will go to the descendants of any of the slaves who made the bricks, sawed the timbers for these spectacular homes or picked the cotton that made them attainable.

Each of the homes we saw today provided a different experience. Longwood, the largest octagonal house in America, was begun in 1860 by a wealthy cotton planter with eight children and a wife who wanted her home to be the envy of all the other wives with equally wealthy husbands. The house features a great octagonal rotunda open to the entire six stories and crowning the Byzantine-Moorish dome is a 24 foot finial. When the Civil War began only the basement was finished and the Philadelphia craftsmen who were working on the house dropped their tools and left. Boatloads of marble, damask, silk, and fine furniture were embargoed by the Union forces and stolen, burned or destroyed. The family lived in the basement and the home was never finished. Touring the house felt schizophrenic. The outside clearly revealed what the finished product should look like, while the inside was bare bricks and timbers. We saw some of the deserted tools and forms that would have created the decorations inside.

The other homes we saw today are still being lived in and each owner provided a different experience. Elgin was located a few miles out of town and the owner has lived there for 36 years and she invited the great granddaughter of the original owners to show the house with her. The house was begun in 1792 and each generation added another area or feature. In the north a family with newly found funds would more typically, knock down an old house and start over, but here, the add on seemed to be the way to go. The great grandfather of the woman we met today, kept copious records the entire time he lived here and they have provided priceless information about how plantation owners ran their businesses.

Green Leaves was an in town house and a descendant of the original owners six generations ago was on duty in every room. While it wasn't a hoarder's home, it was hard for anyone to throw anything away, because it all was so historical and valuable. For example, a sword confiscated from a British soldier who had used it in a battle against Napoleon, had a hole in the scabbard, because it was used again in the Civil War and the rider who was waving it had his horse shot out from under him. The bullet hole in the scabbard was clearly visible and today the family uses it to cut the cake whenever someone gets married. Each book case and cabinet was overflowing with books, toys, guns, china or other memorabilia. One guide about our age, admitted that no one in the next generation is interested in living at Green Leaves. Although these houses are lovely and well maintained, it is easy to see that they could become a burden. They are so old fashioned and untechy and most people don't want to live in a museum.

The Elms was another home that had been added onto and added onto again over time and had a variety of roles. It served as the rectory for the Presbyterian minister and was also a girls' school. These days the descendant of the Drakes who bought the home in 1865 has made part of the house into a B&B.

And every where we went the gardens were spectacular. The azaleas are going great guns with a variety of vivid colors and many other plants are in full blossom. The Natchez Garden Club knew what it was doing when it scheduled the Pilgrimage.

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